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€1.65 billion aid for farmers

President Sarkozy outlines ideas to restore French farming at a meeting of farmers in the Jura

PRESIDENT Sarkozy has announced plans for a billion in bank loans to farmers and another €650 million in special grants.

The aid package he outlined yesterday on meeting farmers in the Jura, in the east of France, amounts to around 80% of the total which leading farmer’s union FNSEA has been demanding.

He told them: “I will not let the economic crisis beat our agriculture,” adding that farming was facing a “crisis without precedent.”

On a farm visit before he addressed a packed hall, one farmer told him: “We are on the edge of a precipice,” adding he now made only €133 a week from his Montbéliarde dairy cows after a 70-hour week.

Another farmer told him: “We will not be satisfied with sticking plasters.”

On arriving in Poligny, the capital of Comté cheese-making, he was greeted by protestors with banners saying: “We want to a living from our products.”

As he addressed a hall of 800 farmers, protestors outside rang cow bells.

Sarkozy said that on top of the aid package he wanted to “radically reform agriculture policies as we are doing for the capitalist financial system.”

He wanted to see reformed agriculture regulations both on European and international levels, he said.

The European Commission must “speed up its work” in order to organise the milk sector better.

He criticised prices paid to farmers by supermarkets and said plans to monitor supermarket prices and margins more closely would help. This will form part of a new “farming modernisation law.”

He said prices paid to farmers had dropped 20% in a year whereas the prices paid by the public for the same products had dropped just 1%.

Farming was part of France’s national identity, he said.

Applause was muted, and there were murmurs of protest when he raised the taxe carbone - a new tax on fuels which is unpopular with farmers. However part of his aid package includes a 75% reimbursement of this tax for farmers in its first year, 2010.

The promises follow months of protests by farmers, lead by FNSEA, over deregulation and dropping prices.

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